An Afternoon With Avi Steinberg

The secular Jew who actually misses religion

Avi Steinberg.(Random House)

“Mordechai was definitely her pimp,” Avi Steinberg tells me of Esther. “The pimp is what makes it happen. People in the know know that Mordechai is making things move in that story.” Steinberg, 31, knows a lot about pimps. Or at least more than you’d expect an Orthodox-reared Harvard grad to know about them. But after spending two years working in Boston as a prison librarian, he is, if not an authority on the world’s oldest profession, an informed voice on the subject.

Yet what brought our conversation around to the Purim story was not the characters he met while working the checkout desk and then profiled in his memoir. Running the Books is about the two years he spent working at a Boston prison, an experience that helped him do what Harvard could not help him do: Grow up. In addition to recommending titles to inmates, Steinberg taught them creative writing, collected their “kites” (the notes they left for each other on the shelves and in the books), and became more entangled in their lives than an agent of the state probably should. But we had been talking about the other famous Esther—Petrack, of America’s Next Top Model. (more…)

Anti-Bullying Provisions Extended to Jews

The Civil Rights Act now applies

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

With bullying in the news due to the rash of gay suicides and the responding “It Gets Better” project, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to apply part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bars discrimination on campuses based on “race, color or national origin” to Jews. Said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who pushed for a bill that would have changed the Act in this respect, “The policy is now clear: Colleges and universities will no longer be permitted to turn a blind eye when Jewish students face severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses. The schools will now be compelled to respond.”

The Anti-Defamation League has also recently prominently adopted bullying as a cause.

Anti-Bullying Guidelines Add Protection for Jewish Students [JTA/Forward]
Earlier: ADL Suggests Anti-Bullying Measures

I Wish They All Could Be Jewish Derby Girls

Like Ruth Hater Ginsburg and Mazel Tov Cocktail

The Wall St. traitors put the hurt on someone.(Gotham Girls Roller Derby)

If the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear sounds too milquetoast for you, perhaps you’d be better off attending Saturday’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby championship bout, featuring the Bronx Gridlock against the Queens of Pain.

Pondering the end of the season made me start thinking about the joys of derby names. The perfect derby name (see dozens of ‘em here) displays both aggression and humor; reveals something about the skater (she’s literary, she’s a mom, she’s vegan, she enjoys alcoholic beverages); and if the name’s a bit obscure, so much the better. As a fan of children’s books, I enjoy names derived from kid lit: Lemony Kickit, Eva Lasting Broadstopper, Laura Ingalls Piledriver, Veruca Assault, Pippi Headstomping. I also appreciate names that put a violent spin on pop culture: Beyonslay, Stevie Kicks (“I took your love, I took you down”), Splat Benetar, Soylent Mean, Dame Judi Wench. And who says the younger generation doesn’t follow politics? Witness: Sarah Impalin, Shockin Audrey, Tripper Gore, and a referee who goes by Stimulus Package (refs can be men).

Sadly, however, there are very few openly Jewish derby names. (Gee, I wonder why?) Looking at the current rosters, I found Gefilte Fists; Slammy Davis, Jr.; Anne Frankenstein; Ruth Hater Ginsburg; Uzi Quatro; Mazel Tov Cocktail; Nancy Jew; and refs Jew’d Law and Manny Schevitz. My favorite Jew-y derby name? Meshuggah Walls, who skates for the Emerald City Rollergirls in Oregon. (If you don’t get the reference, click here.)

Tablet Magazine readers: What would your Jewish derby name be? Be bold, be butch. Look to history, literature, and popular culture. And leave them in the comments.

As for me? I’d be Golda Slayir, Henrietta Schooled, Sharona Slaychem, Vashti’d Off, Isha Zona, Marjorie Mourningspar, or, if I want to go lowbrow, Torah Spelling. My ref name would definitely be Morris Ayin. (Some of these jokes are for Jewish Day School students only.)

The New Loyalty Oath

Bill would ban East J’lem Arabs from leading tours

The Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

“Loyalty” is the mot juste in Israel these days: After the controversial bill requiring non-Jewish immigrants (and then all immigrants) to declare loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state was approved by the cabinet earlier this month, a new bill was brought before the Knesset last week that would require that all tourist guides leading tours of Jerusalem be themselves Israeli citizens who have “institutional loyalty” to Israel.

The proposal, initiated by Gideon Ezra of Kadima and supported by a multipartisan slate of legislators, does not mince words. “Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have ‘dual loyalty,’ since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority,” it declares. “These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel.” There’s that word, loyalty.

Apart from the obvious, gaping problems—what, for example, is “the national Israeli viewpoint,” and how does one measure “institutional loyalty” to the state?—Ezra’s proposal will have the concrete effect of causing more than 300 Israeli Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem to losen their jobs as licensed tour guides.

Other countries that require state-appointed, ideologically approved travel guides include North Korea.

MKs Seek Ban on East Jerusalem Arabs Guiding in the City [Haaretz]
Related: Under Oath [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Bibi Moderates on Loyalty Oath Bill
Bibi Floats Oath Quid for Freeze Quo

Today on Tablet

All about J Street, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, senior writer Allison Hoffman has a must-read on J Street: How it rose, how it stumbled, and how important it is to the American Jewish left. Contributing editor Joan Nathan has the skinny on French-Jewish cooking, though skinniness is perhaps the last thing reading it will lead to. Susie Linfield considers the utility and even ethics of viewing Holocaust-era photographs. Music columnist Alexander Gelfand profiles Avner Yonai, who was inspired by Everything Is Illuminated (the movie) to resurrect a Polish-Jewish mandolin orchestra. The Scroll wants to be read today, but only after you read the J Street piece.

J Street, the ‘Blocking Back’

How Jeremy Ben-Ami sees his group

Tony Richardson (#49) blocks for the ball-handler, LaDainian Tomlinson (#21).(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It’s not your standard, bland, everyone-can-understand-it sports metaphor: It’s not “We struck out” or “We scored a touchdown” or “It came down to the final buzzer.” Instead, Jeremy Ben-Ami prefers to think of J Street, his “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that Allison Hoffman profiles today, as a very specific player in specific situations during a football game: “Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back,” he told James Traub of The New York Times Magazine last year. If Ben-Ami knows the term—which not everyone who sits on a couch on a Sunday afternoon does—it’s safe to presume he knows what it means. What does it reveal about what he wants for J Street? (more…)

Daybreak: New Iran Plan in the Works

Plus a contemporary cause on ancient walls, and more in the news


• The United States and Europe are expected to soon offer Iran a new nuclear fuel swap deal stricter than the one it rejected last year (and then accepted from Turkey and Brazil). [NYT]

• Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad basically said yesterday that Palestinians would declare statehood in the West Bank in 2011, and the United Nations would approve it. [JPost]

• Protesting Israelis clashed with Israeli Arabs in the town of Umm el-Fahm, which is in Israel proper. [AP/NYT]

• The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem are lit in pink in honor of breat cancer awareness. [JTA]

• How Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell is affecting the neighboring Pennsylvania’s Senate race, an important proxy war between different Israel organizations. [WP]

• President Obama appeared on the The Daily Show in advance of this Saturday’s rally on the Mall; host Jon Stewart pressed him on what he campaigned on versus what he had been able to accomplish. [NYT]

Sundown: Cantor’s Strange Non-Bedfellow

Plus Archbishop Tutu calls for boycott, and more

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in June.(Michelly Rall/Getty Images for TIME/FORTUNE/CNN)

• The usual liberal suspects think soon-to-be House Majority Whip Eric Cantor’s plan to separate Israeli aid from other foreign aid is a dumb idea, including J Street, Democrats, and … AIPAC. [Ben Smith]

• Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to apartheid, called on a South African opera company not to perform in Israel, comparing the situation there to South Africa before reforms. [Arts Beat]

• Why the NBA’s new rule against arguing with the refs is un-Jewish. [Kaplan’s Korner]

• “Jeffrey Goldberg: animal lover.” [Jewish Journal]

• Meet the Israeli Tea Party! Because the world needed another. [JPost]

• Ron Kaplan notes that Dick Miles, the biggest ping-pong champion in American history, is a member of neither the International nor the National Jewish Hall of Fame. I smell a cause célèbre. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Igor Olshansky: You are a defensive lineman; tackling Ahmad Bradshaw is your job, so there is no need to celebrate so elaborately. Stop being a shanda and start getting your 1-5 team off the home-field schneid.

Tennessee’s Pearl Holds Onto Job, For Now

While football coach compares self to Rommel

Coach Bruce Pearl last March.(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

University of Tennessee (and Maccabi USA) men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl is a favorite of Tablet Magazine’s, even if he did a stupid thing. What was the stupid thing? He ran afoulknowingly, it turns out—of NCAA recruiting guidelines by making excessive calls and hosting prospective players and their families for a barbecue. His punishments have included a termination of his current contract, with him negotiating for a new one that will dock his salary $1.5 million over five years, if he gets one; a ban on off-campus recruiting for one year; and current status as an at-will employee, which means he could be fired, permanently, at any time.

The fact is, the guy screwed up. The further facts are, he is still, ethically speaking, in approximately the top, top percentile among coaches at major college sports programs, most of whom are truly horrible; he is still a mensch, who tearfully apologized and admitted wrongdoing (it is notable that Maccabi USA is supporting him); the NCAA’s rules are still insanely byzantine and designed primarily to give it maximum power; and he is still a great coach. I hope he keeps his job. (more…)

Jews and Pot

Hell, we discovered the thing

Allen Ginsberg, probably high.(Prometheus Unbound)

Today, Tablet Magazine published Rebecca Spence’s dispatch from Berkeley, California, where a group of Orthodox Jews are inspired by their religion and spirituality to sell medicinal marijuana.

And yesterday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published Sue Fishkoff’s dispatch from Oakland, California (the town next to Berkeley, for those who don’t know), about how most of the people who seem to be leading the fight in favor of Proposition 19, which would essentially legalize small amounts of marijuana (albeit in contravention of federal law), happen to be Jews. “Jews have a special affinity to marijuana,” says High Times columnist Ed Rosenthal. “It’s an intellectual drug, not a drug that takes you outside your senses like alcohol or opiates. And a lot of marijuana research comes out of Israel.” (Indeed, reports Fishkoff, “THC, the active hallucinogenic ingredient in cannabis, was first isolated in 1964 by Raphael Mechoulam, now a professor of medicinal chemistry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.”)

Bonus! Tablet Magazine contributing editor David Samuels hung out with the medicinal marijuana crowd in northern California and wrote about it for The New Yorker.

And let’s not forget that it was a Jewish guy who introduced marijuana to the Beatles.

Contact High [Tablet Magazine]
Plenty of Jews On Board with California’s Bid To Legalize Marijuana [JTA]
Related: Dr. Kush [The New Yorker]

Professor in Pa. Denies the Holocaust

A question of academic freedom, or of basic competence?


Contributing editor Mark Oppenheimer reminds us that now would be a good time to revisit the four-part series he wrote last year in Tablet Magazine about Holocaust denial, given that it has cropped up in the form of a professor at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, a historically black college not far from Wilmington, Delaware. (more…)

Jewish Boxer May Be Played By Eminem

No, really, and in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie


Journalists have a phrase: “Burying the lede.” What does that mean? Let’s explain by way of example: Yesterday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Dmitriy Salita, the Orthodox Jewish boxer, fresh off a win, will be fighting for a welterweight belt (which he lost late last year) in Manhattan in December. Headline: “Salita Promoting His Title Fight.” And most of the article is about that, until the final paragraph, which reads: “The Ukraine-born Salita is training in Detroit with Boxing Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who recently gave some boxing lessons to Eminem. The rapper-actor was preparing to play Salita in a Walt Disney film titled Knockout.”

Wait, what??

It’s true, Salita confirms. The film has been in the works since around 2003, he said, when Greg Alan Howard, writer of Remember the Titans, “contacted myself and my mentor Jimmy O. He was interested in my story, spent time with Jimmy and I and wrote the screenplay for it.” The real Slim Shady is indeed rumored to play Salita, and, according to Salita, also trained with Steward for the role. The movie will apparently follow Salita up to the age of 19, when the rabbi-in-training won the Golden Gloves and Sugar Ray Robinson awards. The rights have been acquired by Disney’s Jerry Bruckheimer, who has produced a few small, independent flicks like Armageddon, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Rock. (more…)

Peres ♥ Bieber

The octogenarian president loves him some teen pop sensation

Bieber at the Staples Center earlier this week.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Add one more to the list of maladies burdening Shimon Peres, the 87-year-old president of Israel: Bieber fever!

Justin Bieber, to those of our readers without access to gossip blogs or tween girls, is the implausibly coiffed, underaged, pseudo-Jewish singing sensation, known for intricate pop masterpieces with titles like “Baby,” “Love Me,” and “One Less Lonely Girl.” He is also the focus of a recent campaign by the Peres Center for Peace, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to “reconciliation by and for the people of the Middle East.” And what better way to reconcile than to bring Bieber, at a reported cost of $1.5 million, to Tel Aviv, where he’s slated to give a concert next April?

“The Peres Center is thrilled to invite renowned persons and artists, to expose them to the Center’s activities and show them a different side of Israel,” a spokesperson for the Center told Haaretz‘s entertainment magazine, Mouse (translation mine). The Center stepped in after a planned Bieber concert in Israel fell through for financial reasons, and helped rally the necessary funding. Which has got to be Peres’s second most formidable accomplishment, after that business with the Oslo Accords and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Earlier: Justin Bieber, Almost Jewish

Today on Tablet

Political science, smokin’ and prayin’, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith argues that a newly Republican House of Representatives could give President Obama political cover to continue his Mideast policy, emphasizing settlements. Rebecca Spence reports on Orthodox Jews who have found a connection between their spirituality and marijuana (gotta love Berkeley). The Scroll has thought about praying to God, but never inhaled.

Change You Shouldn’t Believe In

Post-midterms, U.S. Israel policy likely to stay the same

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), front and center.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What will be the consequences of the Republicans taking the House of Representatives and (maybe) the Senate next Tuesday when it comes to America’s Mideast policy? Not really all that much! The Jerusalem Post quotes an Israeli official: “It would be a mistake for any policy maker in Israel to think, come November 3, that because it’s a Republican Congress we’re going to have an easier or better time than we’ve had before,” he said. “Foreign policy is dictated by the White House, and Congress and the administration are going to be preoccupied with dealing with the economic situation.”

(You could argue, as Mideast columnist Lee Smith does, that a GOP Congress will give Obama more political cover to do what he wants, but that is not quite the same thing as actually altering policy.)

The one relevant concrete change a party switch will bring is to make Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia)—currently the only Republican Jew in the House or the Senate (though maybe he’ll be joined by this guy?)—the House Majority Whip, or the second-highest third-highest ranking congressperson. (more…)

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.